Can I get good espresso from a budget friendly espresso machine?

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
BlueMINI05

#1: Post by BlueMINI05 »

Hi all!

Newbie here, I've had my machine for only a few weeks now. I'm using a DeLonghi EC140, a Breville BCG450XL conical burr grinder, and a RSVP Terry's Tamper.

I've been mostly lurking, and trying to refine my technique. I'm not really getting anywhere though, and seemed to take a large step backwards with 2 horribly vile shots this morning. I wound up not having time for a third and having to drink the "coffee" that people make here at work. Yuck!

My largest problem at the moment is that the tamper doesn't quite fit the DeLonghi's portafilter basket. I took some measurements and ordered another tamper that should fit and should be here end of week.

The other problem is the bean, I'm trying to use up some Starbucks roast, but had the same repeatability issues with some 8 O'clock coffee. I'm hoping some beans I just got from Trader Joes hopefully will work better (I'm deciding to toss the rest of the Starbucks).

My big question though, especially after this morning, is this: Can I get good espresso from a budget friendly machine such as the DeLonghi EC140? Or should I upgrade to something like the Silvia? I've been trying to be as consistent as possible with the technique, but can't dial it in. Part of the problem is the "crema" that the DeLonghi produces. It somehow "enhances" the crema, so no matter how gut twistingly vile the pull, there's always a beautiful layer of "crema" on top giving false hope of a good espresso. It also seems to always take the same time to pull a shot, despite the grind consistently, which is odd to me.

Thanks for the response, and many thanks to everyone here with all the advice around the site. It's been quite helpful!

djmonkeyhater

#2: Post by djmonkeyhater »

i think that you can get to a serviceable cup of coffee with that machine and grinder with enough effort.

one tip - find a readily available fresh bean that is easy for you to get. until you figure some of this out, only use that bean and get new ones as frequently as you can. that's the single biggest advantage you can give yourself.

you should search and do some reading on HB under:

- pressurized portafilter - this is what makes the omnipresent crema. you really need to remove/disable it.

- Saeco and Starbucks Barista - these are mechanically similar machines to yours and should have a lot in common with yours as far as techniques for mastery.

Beezer

#3: Post by Beezer »

Definitely get fresh, high quality beans. Starbucks or Trader Joes won't cut it. Those beans are pretty much guarateed to be stale and overroasted. Order some good fresh beans from Intelligentsia, Coffee Klatch or another one of this site's sponsors. That will make a huge difference in the result. Even if you got a Silvia, or a GS3, you still wouldn't get a good shot without good, fresh beans. Garbage in, garbage out.

Also, I don't know much about the Breville grinders, but I don't think that grinder is really up to the task of grinding for espresso. You may want to look at getting a high quality burr grinder, which isn't cheap. The cheapest good grinders start at about $200 and go up from there. Cunill Tranquilo and Gaggia MDF are about $200 and can produce decent results. The Rancilio Rocky is also very solid, but it's $300 or more. If you really want to get serious, get a Mazzer Mini, Macap M4 or Cimbali Junior, but be prepared to pay $500 or more. Unfortunately, good espresso requires just the right fineness of grind, which you can't obtain with a cheap grinder. Well, maybe if you can find a good hand grinder like a Zassenhaus you can get good results for cheap, but they are slow and can be hard to track down.

A proper tamper helps too, but I think that's the least of your problems.
Lock and load!

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peacecup

#4: Post by peacecup »

YOU NEED FRESH, LOCALLY ROASTED BEANS! HAS ANYONE MENTIONED THE FRESH BEANS?

You can get good espresso, even with the crema enhancer, if you use good beans. Here is the upshot: the crema enhancer will make crema with old beans, or a grind that is too coarse. This will taste bad, as you;ve noted. But if you use the fresh beans and grind fine enough, the espresso will taste good with or without the crema enhancer.

So, go get some fresh beans, grind as fine as you can (if it chokes, go one step coarser at a time), and keep pulling shots until you get 1.5-2 oz. in ~30 sec. Enjoy!

PC
LMWDP #049
Hand-ground, hand-pulled: "hands down.."

aindfan

#5: Post by aindfan »

I'd like to add the Le'Lit PL53 to the list of lower-price espresso grinders. I think it's about $230 at 1st-line.net right now, and I (and quite a few others around here) have reported EXCELLENT results, especially at that price. If I recall correctly, I was originally looking into getting that De'Longhi machine last summer until this forum convinced me to go for the Gaggia Espresso instead. As far as I can tell, my "cheap" (relatively speaking) machine and grinder can produce delicious results given good technique and very fresh beans.
Dan Fainstein
LMWDP #203
PSA: Have you descaled lately?

portamento

#6: Post by portamento »

Are you mostly aiming to make lattes and cappuccinos, or is straight espresso important to you?

If you are aiming for straight espresso, be warned that it can be an expensive, time-consuming, and frustrating rabbit hole. I would say that both your machine and grinder would not cut it even when pushed to their limits.

A much better learning tool at the low-end of the price spectrum would be a cheap Gaggia. That way you get a real boiler (instead of a thermoblock) and a real 58 mm brass unpressurized portafilter. I still cannot get a "god shot" from my Gaggia, but I've learned a lot about espresso and will soon be upgrading to a commercial-quality machine equipped with that knowledge.

That being said, if your goal is simply to make better lattes then Starbucks... I think you can pull it off pretty easily with your existing equipment.

Fresh beans will definitely help. See if you can pick up some Black Cat at Intelligentsia, since you live in Chicago. Have them prepare you a shot and a cappuccino so you can get a baseline of what taste you should be shooting for.

I actually had that Breville grinder for about six months. It didn't grind fine enough for my Gaggia, but it DID grind plenty fine for my parents' Starbucks Barista (which like your DeLonghi, has a pressurized portafilter.) People on these boards slam pressurized portafilters, but on an $80 espresso machine, you might not want to remove that crutch. It may give you phoney crema but it also provides some preinfusion to compensate for a less than perfect grind and tamp.

Just ignore the labels on your Breville bean hopper and crank it all the way to Turkish. If that doesn't choke your DeLonghi, then you probably need to stay at that setting until you have a better grinder. You can also experiment with how hard you tamp and how much coffee you dose into the portafilter.

Once you are making killer lattes with fresh beans, the Breville as fine as it can go, and your pressurized portafilter... see where you stand. Are you happy enough with the results? If not, you probably need to upgrade.

BlueMINI05

#7: Post by BlueMINI05 »

Thanks for all your comments and suggestions! I found one more variable I forgot to take into account: Barista Incompitance :oops:

After poking around yesterday, I looked at the "Espresso Machines 101" and "Espresso Machines 201" ... and found a huge mistake. I'd been assuming the steam switch just enabled the steam... the manual just said to flip it on to enable steaming and I thought it was ok to leave it there. Dumb mistake! After learning about how my machine actually works, I see the problem: The water was over pressure and overly hot. oooops! No wonder it was hot, thin, bitter, and blonding out too fast.

This morning I changed my routine, leaving that steam switch off, using the trader joe coffee (haven't aquired any other yet), and heading for the turkish grind area on the Breville as suggested. Much better! The first pull was definitely sink worthy, however with a tweak on the grind, the second was much better. Much, much better. The crema even hung around while I steamed the milk. And the puck was hard and firm, requiring an aggressive beat down on the knock box to release (good anger management, if you ask me :lol: ) I think there's promise. Better beans seems to be the next step.

In other news, I may have a bonus coming which means one thing and one thing only: Upgrade! I think i can produce some decent espresso, but I want better. I used to be a "milk & sugar with a little coffee" drinker, but as of late i've been drinking black. And all the descriptions of good espresso have me curious. Plus the steam wand on the DeLonghi is a PITA to clean (have to steam a couple pitchers of clean water or milk froth dries out inside). Right now I'm looking at the Silvia/Rocky combination offer at Chris' Coffee Service.

aindfan

#8: Post by aindfan »

portamento wrote:I still cannot get a "god shot" from my Gaggia, but I've learned a lot about espresso and will soon be upgrading to a commercial-quality machine equipped with that knowledge.
So maybe our Gaggia results don't quite compare to the pros pulling shots on a LM or Synesso in downtown Manhattan, but my shots are tasting damn good. I can imagine that a commercial-home machine would give even better results, but it really has been good to learn the process and what can go wrong with a lower end machine. From where I am now I will have to fight upgradeitis for at least 2-3 years and go for something big and shiny.
BlueMINI05 wrote:In other news, I may have a bonus coming which means one thing and one thing only: Upgrade! I think i can produce some decent espresso, but I want better. I used to be a "milk & sugar with a little coffee" drinker, but as of late i've been drinking black. And all the descriptions of good espresso have me curious. Plus the steam wand on the DeLonghi is a PITA to clean (have to steam a couple pitchers of clean water or milk froth dries out inside). Right now I'm looking at the Silvia/Rocky combination offer at Chris' Coffee Service.
If you have the budget for it, you might want to shoot for a HX machine. It may take a bit of extra work with the flushing, but it is probably easier than temp-surfing a Silvia. I say this all from speculation: I have never used a Silvia or an HX machine, but from my single boiler experience with the Gaggia Espresso, I know I'd want something that gives great temp stability/repeatability and can both steam and pull shots at the same time.
Dan Fainstein
LMWDP #203
PSA: Have you descaled lately?